by Arnold Woods
Last weekend, crowds gathered to watch as a 139-year-old, two-story Victorian home was moved six blocks from Franklin Street to Fulton Street. It was a huge effort requiring the coordination of many city agencies, but the job was accomplished in one day. As impressive as this was, it pales in comparison to another building moving effort that took place in 1913.
What is now Commerce High School started as just an adjunct department in 1883 of the Boy’s High School.1 In July 1884, it was established as the Commercial School with its own location on Powell Street near Clay in an old Girl’s High School Building and began adding additional classes.2 By 1887, the Commercial School had 164 male and 54 female students. There was discussion then of reintegrating the school with the Boy’s and Girl’s High Schools,3 but the school remained its own entity. By 1890, the girls outnumbered the boys at the school.
As it kept growing, the Commercial School moved to a building on Bush Street near Stockton by 1892. That building was taken over by the new Polytechnic High School in late 1884,4 and it is unclear what happened to the Commercial School at that point. By 1904, however, the Commercial School was reestablished at 5th and Market Streets. As with much of that area though, 1906 happened. The school was destroyed in the earthquake and fire.5 After a bond measure for the construction of various city buildings was passed, the City, in March 1909, authorized $250,000 for the construction of a new Commercial School on Grove Street between Polk and Larkin.6
City Architect Newton J. Tharp was in charge of rebuilding the City’s infrastructure, including the new Commercial School. A three-story brick and terracotta structure with a steel frame was designed. Tharp, unfortunately, died of pneumonia he contracted while in New York to research plans for a hospital. In his honor, the Board of Education voted on June 23, 1909 to rename the school, then holding classes at Mission High School, as the Newton J. Tharp Commercial School.7 The cornerstone for the new school was laid on January 16, 1910 and construction began.8 It would open on January 3, 1911 with Colonel Charles Murphy as principal.9 Before it opened though, the Board of Education reversed course and removed Newton J. Tharp’s name from the school.10
The decision to rebuild the Commercial School on Grove Street between Polk and Larkin proved short-sighted though. A little over a year after the school on Grove Street was opened, San Francisco unveiled an ambitious City Hall and Civic Center plan that would require the removal of the school.11 The City worked out a swap of lands whereby the Commercial School would get land at Fell and Franklin–intended for a library–in return for the school’s plot on Grove. Not wanting to waste all the money spent on the recently constructed school by simply tearing it down and rebuilding, San Francisco embarked on an audacious plan to move the entire building to its new site.12 Before the move began, the Board of Education once again changed the school’s name, this time to The San Francisco High School of Commerce.13
Commercial School lifted off its foundation on Grove Street in relocation move, May 20, 1913. (wnp36.00310; DPW Horace Chaffee, photographer – SF Department of Public Works / Courtesy of a Private Collector)
Unlike last weekend’s one day move of a Victorian home, this move took a good deal longer. The contract to move the school was awarded to a Seattle firm called Sound Construction & Engineering for a price of $151,000.14 The deal required the company to completely rebuild the school if they wrecked it during the move. The subcontractor firm of Nicholas & Handley Co. did the actual work of moving the building.15 The school building was initially jacked up off of its foundation, then three steam donkeys providing 500 tons of cable strength were used to pull the building on steel pin rollers.
Commercial School crossing Van Ness Avenue during its relocation journey, July 11, 1913. (wnp36.00315; DPW Horace Chaffee, photographer – SF Department of Public Works / Courtesy of a Private Collector)
The trip began on May 8, 1913 and on the first day, they were able to move the school 20 feet.16 In late May, Van Ness Avenue was closed at Grove Street in preparation for the steam donkeys and school to turn onto it.17 The turn onto Van Ness proved to be difficult and progress slowed to as little as one foot a day,18 but picked up again thereafter. By mid-October 1913, the school arrived at its new location at Franklin and Fell Streets.19 It would still take about another month though to get the school situated onto its new foundation.20 The remarkable journey had ended after seven months.
The School of Commerce building still stands today at the corner of Fell and Franklin streets. In the mid-1920s, architect John Reid, Jr. designed a beautiful new addition to the school, which was eventually designated San Francisco Landmark #140. Dwindling attendance led to the closing of the School of Commerce in 195221 It was used as administrative offices for the school district thereafter. So as we revel in the sight today of a beautiful Victorian home traveling city streets to a new home, keep in mind the even more amazing feat of maneuvering a huge brick school building six blocks back in 1913.
1. “Commercial School,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 12, 1890, p. 6.
2. “Manufacturing Patronage,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 13, 1884, p. 3.
3. “The School Board,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 9, 1887, p. 5.
4. “The New Polytechnic High School,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 24, 1894, p. 7.
5. “Condition of Public Schools,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 25, 1906, p. 10.
6. “Hall Of Justice Appropriation,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 17, 1909, p. 8.
7. “School To Honor Dead Architect,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 24, 1909, p. 16.
8. “Corner Stone Laid of New Commercial School,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 17, 1910, p. 5.
9. “Spring Term Opens In Public Schools,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 4, 1911, p. 7.
10. “Directors Equalize Teachers’ Salaries,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 11, 1910, p. 7.
11. “Civic Center Plans Unfolded; Big Condemnation Suit Begun By Order Of The Supervisors,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 2, 1912, p. 1.
12. “To Move School On Wheels Gigantic Task Is Planned,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 10, 1912, p. 5.
13. “Local School Will Have New Name,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 13, 1912, p. 8.
14. “Want Millions In Next Few Months,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 6, 1913, p. 5.
15. “School Starts ‘Trip’ Today Is Notable Engineering Feat,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 8, 1913, p. 20.
16. “Big Brick School Building Moving,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 9, 1913, p. 22.
17. “Van Ness Avenue Closed,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 27, 1913, p. 20.
18. “Big Brick School Building Balking,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 30, 1913, p. 12.
19. “Huge School Building Nears End of Journey,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 11, 1913, p. 22.
20. “Commercial High Is ‘Home’ Ends Seven Months of Journey,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 30, 1913, p. 42.
21. “Closing of Commerce High Okayed,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 6, 1952, p. 19.
by Frank Dunnigan
Outdoor advertising—also known as billboard ads—has a local origin. Walter Foster was born in Vallejo in 1871 and George Kleiser was born in Oakland in 1874. The two met in San Francisco, became friends, and in 1898, established an organization that formalized the placement and the management of outdoor advertising—Foster & Kleiser Company. The two friends soon turned outdoor advertising into a highly successful, organized business model, establishing Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington as their first territories by 1900.
In the early days, such advertising often involved little more than printed posters being pasted randomly onto walls and fences—often with little regard for the property rights of others.
Given the growth of automobile sales in the US in the early years of the 20th century, outdoor advertising had the potential to reach increasingly large numbers of consumers all day, every day. Ads were strategically positioned so that those who were passing by in their new cars had an easy opportunity to view examples of the latest products and services available to consumers.
Multiple advertising companies approached property owners and offered payment for that provided for exclusive access to their property, with specific rental terms and timeframes. With advertising companies paying consistent fees to property owners, the advertisers themselves could then sign up for long, medium, or short terms for their ads—a financially beneficial arrangement for all.
Foster & Kleiser quickly expanded and soon became the dominant provider of such services to the business community up and down the west coast, acquiring smaller firms, and soon maintaining a strong presence in San Francisco, as billboard advertising soon covered the urban and rural landscapes. That particular business model began fading from the scene as the U.S. Interstate highway system was developed beginning in the mid-1950s which forbade freeway-adjacent billboards on newly-built roadways. Local restrictions on outdoor advertisements also began to emerge as part of the Market Street beautification plans that were associated with BART/MUNI construction beginning in the mid-1960s.
Here are some examples of the variety of outdoor advertisements that once appeared in neighborhoods all across the City:
BAYSHORE: More than a dozen billboards dotted the route into San Francisco at the intersection of Bayshore Boulevard and Third Street on January 10, 1947. Highway 101 now runs through this area.
CIVIC CENTER: As outdoor advertising was beginning to take on a more formalized approach with sturdily constructed frames, electric lighting began to be added to many displays, including this group of signs at Ninth & Market Streets in 1917.
That same corner was upgraded by September 1938 to include a new, larger single display (then promoting Sunkist Oranges), complete with a row of spot lights plus a fenced and landscaped foreground. This location was adjacent to the parking lot that served the late, great Fox Theatre (1929-1963).
DOWNTOWN MARKET STREET: The building at Market, Powell, and Eddy Streets was demolished in the mid-1960s for construction of Hallidie Plaza. At the time of this 1963 image, it sported airline and beer ads on the roof, Dobbs for Mayor signage at 2nd Floor level, and Corina Cigar ads on ground floor. Note an additional mini-billboard on the cab’s trunk.
EMBARCADERO: The area adjacent to The Embarcadero featured a mixture of advertising designs—from ads painted on the sides of buildings, to free-standing billboards, to massive rooftop displays. In the World War II era, some of these began featuring eye-catching lighting.
INNER SUNSET: Voters approved a consolidated public transit system in April of 1944, and a mere 15 years later, this entire block was redeveloped into a grocery store facing Irving Street (Park & Shop, later Andronico’s) with a 3-story apartment complex facing Golden Gate Park at the far north end of the lot.
MISSION: Lachman Brothers Furniture, located at 16th & Mission Streets, had a number of similar clock signs in multiple locations. This one was located at Mission Street and Randall Avenue, where Bernal Heights adjoins the Mission District, circa 1940.
NORTH OF PANHANDLE: In an era when San Francisco had many unbuilt lots, outdoor advertising was a frequent presence in many neighborhoods. Here is a row of billboards lining the south side of Turk Street near Lyon, circa 1953. An apartment building has long since occupied the site.
RICHMOND: This Ocean Beach advertisement for Kelly Tires, circa 1916, was well situated for a heavy traffic area, and may have contributed to the popular place name Kelly’s Cove.
SOUTH OF MARKET: Southern Pacific Company installed a large neon-lighted sign atop the headquarters building in 1954, but the public regarded it as an advertising eye-sore and the company removed it a few years later. Note Mobil Gas rooftop ad featuring “Winged Mercury” at left and traditional billboard for Old Crow bourbon in lower foreground.
SUNSET: Multiple billboards dotted the undeveloped lots along 19th Avenue—shown here on the west side of the street near the corner of Rivera in February of 1937 before the roadway was widened as part of California Highway 1 circa 1940.
TENDERLOIN: This large sturdy display, with space for more than a dozen changing advertisements, appeared facing Eddy Street on the back wall of a downtown theatre in January 1918.
TWIN PEAKS: Billboard advertising on Upper Market Street, shown here in 1953, disappeared when the roadway was divided and widened a few years later.
UNION SQUARE: The east side of Union Square above Stockton Street was home to these and several more outdoor rooftop advertising displays, circa 1965. Today, the area is still home to a handful of such ads—often airline-related.
WESTERN ADDITION: Presidio Avenue near Sacramento Street, 1951. Sometimes advertising was painted onto the exposed sides of larger buildings—both commercial and residential—after payment to the building owners. Circa 1960, the billboard site became home to a motel, now known as the Laurel Inn.
WEST OF TWIN PEAKS: In the post-World War II era, Marin Town & Country Club in Fairfax placed a dozen memorable billboards like this in and around foggy areas of San Francisco in order to encourage residents to venture north into the sunshine. Sadly, the popular resort was closed after the 1972 summer season.
WEST PORTAL: Lighted display ads for Lakeshore Park homes and Kraft Mayonnaise once greeted northbound motorists at the busy 5-street intersection of Junipero Serra Boulevard, Sloat Boulevard, West Portal Avenue, Portola Drive, and St. Francis Way in 1953. The area behind the billboards was developed by Pacific Telephone as a Directory Assistance office in the early 1970s, and that building was later transformed into the campus for San Francisco’s private Waldorf High School in 2007.
by Arnold Woods
San Francisco has long had one of the biggest celebrations of the Chinese New Year. The annual festival and parade lasts for two weeks and features a parade with floats, costumed school kids, acrobats and stilt walkers, bands, firecrackers, and the Golden Dragon, operated by a large team of people. 2021 is the Year of the Ox and is also the 170th anniversary of the first Chinese New Year celebration, both in San Francisco and in the United States.
The first recorded celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year in the United States occurred on February 1, 1851 in San Francisco.1 However, this was not a public celebration, nor held for the Chinese community in the City. Local businessman Norman Assing hosted a “feast” for policemen and ladies to celebrate the New Year. By 1855 though, the Chinese New Year celebrations were being held publicly.
By 1860, the local Chinese community had combined their traditional New Year’s festivities with the American parade tradition in order to create a more positive perception of their community that was often victimized by the discriminatory practices of the white majority in the City and state.2 The Chinese New Year parade allowed the local Chinese community to bond and persist despite frequent mistreatment.
The 1860 celebration featured the first dragon dance on the streets of San Francisco.3 Various forms of dragon dances have been a part of Chinese culture for centuries. The dragon is formed by many sections on poles with a head, body, and tail made out of material that goes over the hoops in each section. The length of the dragon varies, but it often stretches for an entire city block. Performers use the poles to make the dragon “dance” down the parade route in sync with drummers. It is a moving and powerful performance requiring a lot of skill by the performers.
The San Francisco Chinese New Year Festival and Parade usually lasts for two weeks following the first day of the Chinese New Year. In the past, this has caused some in the white community to complain about a lack of work being done during the celebration.4 The major local papers often failed to mention the holiday or focused on perceived downsides to the festivities.5 In time though, the festival and parade began to attract attention and tourism and began to be more widely embraced by other communities.
The 1935 parade was broadcast nationwide as part of an NBC radio special.6 The Chinese New Year and festivities also started receiving yearly coverage in the major papers. When World War II broke out , the celebration continued without fireworks so that the gunpowder could be used in the war effort.7 The advent of communism in China in 1949 brought back some anti-Chinese sentiment, so the Chinese New Year celebration in 1951 began incorporating anti-communism messaging and funding.8
The genesis of the modern Chinese New Year celebration in the City began in 1953 with expanded festivities, including music, art, dance, fashion shows, martial arts demonstrations, and the first Miss Chinatown pageant. 100,000 people turned out to see the parade on Grant Avenue that year.9 The three-day gala in 1954 drew a half-million folks.10 In 1958, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, the San Francisco-based trade association, took over the organization of the annual jubilee.
Lion dance performed at Richmond Branch Library for Chinese New Year, 1990s. (wnp07.00358; Philip Liborio Gangi, photographer – Richmond Review Newspaper Collection / Courtesy of Paul Kozakiewicz, Richmond Review)
The San Francisco festivities continued to grow and eventually became too big for the small Chinatown streets, so wider streets were added to the parade route in the 1970s to spread out the crowds. Local television began annually broadcasting the parade in 1987 bringing the event to an even larger audience. Today, the San Francisco Chinese New Year Festival and Parade has become the largest such celebration in the world with millions of people attending or watching on television. Guò nián hǎo”(过年好)!
1. “7 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Lunar New Year in the U.S.,” Smithsonian Asian Pacific Island American Center, http://smithsonianapa.org/now/happy-lunar-new-year-2/.
2. “Chinese New Year Parade,” Kye Masino, FoundSF, https://www.foundsf.org/index.php?title=Chinese_New_Year_Parade.
3. “Chinese Celebration Begins Feb. 7,” El Paso Times Sunday Magazine, January 25, 1970, p. 6.
4. “The Chinese New Year,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 10, 1876, p. 3.
5. “A Gloomy Chinese New Year,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 13, 1896, p. 13.
6. “S.F. Chinatown Scene of New U.S. Broadcast,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 10, 1935, p. 13.
7. “Chinese Save The Fireworks For the Enemy,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 16, 1942, p. 11.
8. “Chinatown Parade To Open Anti-Red Fund Campaign,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 11, 1942, p. 14.
9. “The New Year of the Serpent Wriggles In–With a Bang,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 16, 1953, p. 1.
10. “Chinatown Events End For Year of the Horse,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 8, 1954, p. 30.
by Arnold Woods
A little over a month ago, we told you about San Francisco’s second biggest snow fall, the 3.5 inches that fell on December 31. 1882. As we mentioned at that time, the 1880s saw a lot–by San Francisco standards–of snow. In fact, a little over four years after that New Year’s Eve snow of 1882, the largest recorded snowfall in San Francisco’s history occurred. On February 5, 1887. an average of 3.7 inches of snow blanketed the City.
Unlike 1882, when the day started with clear skies, San Franciscans woke up on Saturday, February 5, 1887 to find snow on the ground. It started coming down around 3:00 a.m. and kept coming down for many hours.1 While children may have been disappointed that the snow wasn’t canceling a school day, they did not waste time getting outside to have fun in it. Makeshift sleds were made to slide down hills and more than a few snowballs were launched.
The hill on Haight Street became the site of the formation of San Francisco’s first toboggan club that day. Some transplanted New Yorkers quickly built a toboggan and named it “Major Macfarlane” after a former editor of the Albany [New York] Press. Thomas Doolan was elected club captain and Judge Pennie was chosen to be the steersman of the toboggan. Trial runs down Haight’s hill then commenced.
While the kids were having fun, streetcar drivers and passengers were less amused as they were frequent targets of snowball assaults. The snow was slushy, ideal for forming snowballs, but harsh for recipients. The artillery broke windows on Market, Sutter, Larkin, and Polk streetcars. Passengers and conductors could huddle inside the streetcars, both for warmth and to avoid getting hit directly by a slushy missile. Unfortunate gripmen had no such cover and suffered as a result. Horse-car drivers similarly received the brunt of snowball barrages. One streetcar slid off its track turning from Polk onto Post and struck a poultry wagon sending its driver to the hospital.
The downside to the snowball wars was a fair amount of injuries and property damage. Worse still was the targeting of any Chinese person who dared leave Chinatown by roving gangs of white men and boys. They were “unmercifully mauled” declared the Chronicle, who described it as “race strife” in which the “Chinese fared badly.” If a Chinese person crossed Kearney Street, they would get targeted by hundreds of whites and, if they dared to fire back, they would get beaten as well as pummeled by snowballs. In retaliation, whites who ventured into Chinatown would get pelted with snowballs and stones. In a few places, rivals fired across the street at each other from rooftops. This strife led to a number of arrests for battery and malicious mischief.
Golden Gate Park received some of the deepest accumulations. Park workers measured the snow at ten inches to one foot in some areas. Although there was some broken windows at the Conservatory and some tree branches that faltered under the weight of the snow, the Park came through largely unscathed. Park Superintendent J.J. McEwen thought the moisture would benefit the plants and that the trees might be better off with their snow-induced trimming.
Since the nearly 4-inch average snowfall of February 5, 1887, San Francisco has seen little snow and never as much accumulation. Six storms–in 1888, 1896, 1932, 1952, 1962, and 1976–have dropped flakes across the City since then, but never more than an inch average with some larger aggregations at the highest elevations. Coincidentally, San Francisco’s last snow in 1976 also fell on February 5th, making it the snowiest date in City history. 45 years have passed since then, the longest snowless gap the City has experienced. Will we see snow in the City again? Time will tell.
1. “A Foot Of Snow,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 6, 1887, p. 8.